Academic Writing: Feeling the Love

Today I received in the mail copies of a journal in which I recently had an article published. And the article is mentioned on the front cover! Woohoo! (Bottom left-hand corner of the photo–the story about pharmacy students.) 

I’m on a roll with publications lately! But this is after quite an extensive dry spell.

I was excited to have this article published, but I wasn’t nearly as excited as I was about my article about the Cecropia moth in WILD magazine. I think it’s because for me, academic writing always felt much more like work, whereas writing “plain language,” be it fiction or non-fiction, is much more fun. Academic writing doesn’t come naturally to me; plain language writing does.

I’ve held a number of university contract research positions, and in each case part of my job was/is to write articles for academic journals. I admit it, I struggle with it still. It feels slightly…foreign. Where’s the creativity? Where’s the beautiful-sounding prose? Where’s the story? And then one day I realized that academic writing is just like all other forms of writing: there’s creativity, there can be beautiful-sounding prose, and there definitely is a story…I just need to look a little harder. In academic writing, compared to other writing, it just comes in different flavours.

One big breakthrough I had in my writing occurred at a conference when a speaker gave a talk about writing with “heart.” (My apologies to the speaker…I can’t remember your name!) She was speaking within the context of writing fiction for children, and advised that your story, your characters, your words, everything should come from your heart. Pour your heart onto the page and fill what you write with love. Readers will notice and feel it.

So, I tried it with my fiction writing and my non-fiction writing for children. I tried to write as much from my heart as I could. And I noticed a big difference. A HUGE difference. Even if I’m exhausted and I can hardly type and my brain is chugging along trying to find words, I try as hard as I can to dig deep, deep down and write what’s in my heart. Because if I write just for the sake of putting words down, or to just “get it done,” I can tell the difference when I later read what I wrote (and cringe).

And then one day at work I was re-reading a draft academic article I wrote and I thought, “Wow, this sucks.” I realized I hadn’t cared about what I was writing. I wrote just to “get it done.” And it was obvious. So I dug deep down, renewed my interest in the subject matter, and thought about my readers. I started to write with heart. Wow, what a difference. 

Lately I’ve been trying to embrace academic writing. It can be creative, it can be beautiful, it can have a story, and it can be filled with heart. And as my husband suggested, “Think of academic writing as cross-training for your other writing.”

Time to lace up those cross-trainers.


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